Example Second Year Ancient and Medieval History (V116) module summaries


Ancient and Medieval History in Theory and Practice

  • 20 credits 

This module addresses questions to do with the nature of history and historical knowledge, particularly as they relate to the ancient and medieval worlds. Topics covered include issues in the philosophy of history (explanation, causality, objectivity etc.); the characteristics of different kinds of history and major trends in historiography. This is not a standard history module with a definite period/place focus, but a broader reflective module designed to aid independent thinking and reflection by students.

Research Methods

  • 20 credits

This module is designed to support students as they develop a topic on which to write their dissertation in your final year. It not only marks a crucial stage in their degree as a whole, but is also an important module in its own right. The Research Methods module will give students firsthand experience of the work of a historian as they learn to identify and frame a valid, intellectually coherent research question; identify, find and consider what primary sources they will use and how they will use them; consult with a specialist historian in whatever area it is they wish to work on; present their planned project to their peers; write a literature review that analyses what historians have made of the same subject, and start preliminary work on their dissertation proper by conducting two weeks’ worth of research.

Medieval Option A and Medieval Option B 

  • Each of the following modules are 20 credits

Medieval Option A and B example module summaries:

Childhood and Adolescence in Medieval Europe

This course will explore the lives of young people in Medieval Society from ca. 1100 to 1500 focusing on western Europe with a special emphasis on England.  A society’s culture and a myriad of attitudes are revealed in the way it deals with its children and adolescents.  In this course we will look at the way historians have examined childhood and explore and test the argument made by some that there was no real concept of childhood in medieval Europe.  In individual seminars we will explore various aspects of the lives of children, starting with pregnancy and birth over early childhood and infancy to adolescence and family formation, which usually occurred in the later teenage years.  What was it like to grow up in a medieval city like London?  How would the experiences of boys and girls growing up in noble households have differed from those growing up in villages or towns?  What did young people learn and how were they viewed by adults?  We will also look at questions of socialisation and gender roles, so in what ways did experiences of girls and boys differ, what kind of schooling did children receive, if any?  The period covered saw some important and sweeping social and economic changes, so how did the Black Death impact on families? We will look at a whole range of primary sources, from poems to legal records to archaeological finds.

Prophets, Ruler and Rebels of Early Islam

 Islam is the newest of the great monotheistic religions.  Its Prophet Muhammad died in 632, and within just 100 years the Islamic caliphate extended from the Arabian Peninsula across thousands of kilometres to the frontiers with China.  How do we explain this success of Islam, known to some as the ‘second big bang’?  How did Islamic rule impact the medieval societies that were subjected to it? How and why did people convert to Islam, and what was their relationship with Christians, Jews or Buddhists?  Who were the caliphs and sultans of specific regions in the Islamic world?  This course explores the early origins and development of Islam within the context of historical, social and cultural change in the Near East and Central Asia from late antiquity to the 15th century. Students will draw on a range of textual, archaeological and art historical evidence to examine the history of Islam in selected societies, and will gain an appreciation for the variety in experiences and strategies of those who joined and participated in the ‘House of Islam’ in the medieval period. 

Before Globalisation? Afro-Eurasian World History 500-1800

This module puts European history in its place.  An abiding theme of European world histories written between the eighteenth and the late twentieth century has been the West’s unique rise to global preeminence through a range of diverse but interlinked processes that might collectively be called modernization.  The world’s assumption of a peculiarly ‘European’ modernity, and the dominant concepts and frameworks within which historians have traced this development, has left two significant areas of human history - medieval Europe and the non-West - out in the cold, the former seen as backward and contributing little to the story, the latter in terms of passive subjection to Western political and economic dynamism or as the exoticized ‘Other’. 

The ‘globalization’ of the world over the last few decades, has exposed the brittleness of ‘European modernity’ as an overarching theme in world history.  Complex global trends are happening more quickly than historians can invent new frameworks and models to comprehend them.  This module contributes to these new interpretive conditions by inviting you to consider the dynamics of human interaction across the Afro-Eurasian world system from 500 to 1800, before ‘European modernity’.  An important aim of this module is critically to confront Eurocentric grand narratives that have inhibited the understanding of our own European past and prevented our better appreciation of historical agency in other parts of the world.  It offers a comparative synchronic study of religious and political cultures and formations, economic and technological developments, and cross-cultural contacts and trends from West-Africa and Ireland on the East Atlantic seaboard, to Japan in the Far East. 

Reproduction and the Self: Gender, Family and Sexuality in the Early Middle Ages 

This module explores changes and continuities in the relationship between production and reproduction in the period between the collapse of the Empire in the West in the fifth century to the transformations of the year 1000.  We will examine the ways in which families could be created (through marriage, adoption, fostering, amongst other methods) and regulated (in terms of size, shape and membership), how changes in tenure and inheritance customs affected relations within families, and the opportunities for opting out of family structures or creating alternative structures (such as same-sex unions).  We will also look at roles and expectations for individual men and women, the ways in which masculinity and femininity were performed, and the points at which such roles and expectations were questioned.  Finally we will explore ideas surrounding sexuality: was sexuality seen as a question of identity, or a question of practice?  This module will draw on a broad range of primary sources, from normative texts such as penitentials and lawcodes to narrative sources including saints’ lives, poetry and biography; we will also draw on visual sources and on archaeological material such as grave goods. 

Crusading and Crusader Kingdoms 

Few aspects of medieval history appear to have more contemporary resonance than the crusades, the so-called ‘wars of the cross’ that were fought by western Christians against a range of adversaries, including Muslims, pagans, heretics and Mongols.  In this module we will examine the origins and development of the crusading ideal in the central Middle Ages, from its formation in the late eleventh century through to its evolution and diversification in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.  Where appropriate, we will also study the nature of the frontier societies that were created by crusaders in the eastern Mediterranean, the Iberian peninsula and north-eastern Europe, and assess the impact that crusading had on the lives and mentalities of western Europeans in general. 

Crime and Public Order in Medieval Europe 

Every society has to cope with internal conflict as well as with external threats. Such conflicts take different forms, individual criminal activity caused by poverty or an unwillingness to respect norms, mass violence which can arise from a dissolution of social structures as social protest or legally legitimate and organised violence in the context of external threats: war.  These phenomena will be studied in their different contexts. There will also be an analysis of the mechanisms produced by medieval societies to deal with conflict and to combat crime and disorder. This will include a study of different types of norms (“laws”) and a survey of different legal mechanisms to preserve the peace.

A great variety of late medieval sources offer information on crime and disorder, on events, on their causes and on attempts to preserve peace.  They include records from criminal trials which reveal bits of the medieval underworld and describe the procedures followed by the courts, normative sources like laws and statutes, records from towns with descriptions of unrest and spectacular criminal cases, books written by contemporary legal scholars trying to discuss legal and to define procedure as well as narrative sources giving accounts of popular rebellions and warfare.  Apart from the extensive literature on the subject, extracts from such sources will also be consulted. 

Ancient History Option modules

  • Each of the following modules are 20 credits

Ancient History Option example module summaries:

Artefacts and Material Culture      

Artefacts and materials provide us with insights into other ways of life, art, cognition, technology and the materiality of human existence - practically and in terms of symbolic expression and sensory experience. Artefacts are also the primary media for representing the past in museums - a key point of contact for public engagement with cultural heritage. Archaeology is at the cutting edge of material culture studies, heavily influencing – and being influenced by – new approaches in anthropology, art history, heritage conservation and museology. 

The module is divided into two sections. The first part explores the collection, curation, interpretation and presentation of material culture in museum displays and repositories. This will include discussion of display methods (including digital media), and the values, meanings and aesthetics of artefact presentation. The second part of the module examines current approaches to the interpretation of material culture, focusing on social life in the material world, relationships between beliefs, knowledge, action and artefacts, and fundamental aspects of human existence such as technology, ritual, gender, age, cult, ethnicity and power. The themes explored by this module are relevant to all periods of study and all parts of the world. By the end of the module you will be able to interpret material culture from a range of perspectives, and critically evaluate how past material worlds are recovered, curated, displayed and interpreted for modern audiences.

Catastrophes! Humans and Environments 

This course aims to review a range of key issues in world archaeology and how environmental evidence can be used effectively to address, explain or clarify our past.  

It explores a range of central archaeological questions and how environmental archaeology can help understand these. The module will also critically examine some popular theories concerning the past such as a range of ‘Catastrophe Theories’ such as volcanic eruptions, comet strike and disease based ‘mega deaths’ and the use of ‘long term climate’ change as an sole explanation for social change. 

Greek and Roman Epic

This module examines the history of the epic poem in the classical world. This module aims to give a deeper understanding of the more familiar epic poems from antiquity, in particular the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, addressing topics such as the relationship between Homer's poetry and wider traditions of Indo-European and ancient Near Eastern mythology, the reception of epic themes in Greek tragedy, the reception of tragedy in the Aeneid, the ways in which the Aeneid addresses the bloody history of the first century BC. We will also be looking at some less familiar epics; these may include Apollonius Rhodius' Argonantica, Catullus' Peleus and Thetis, and Lucan's Civil War. In addition to this, we shall consider some of the ways in which ancient epic has been influential in English literature.

Imperial Egypt (Dynasties 18-20)

The New Kingdom (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties, c. 1550-1070 BC) saw the transformation of Egypt from an impoverished country ruled by the foreign ‘Hyksos’ to an empire stretching from the Euphrates in Syria to the fifth cataract on the Nile in modern Sudan. It was thus an era of warrior pharaohs but also of Hatshepsut, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. International trade and diplomacy figure prominently, as do enormous religious building projects, extensively decorated tombs such as that of Nebamun, the Book of the Dead, personal religion and the village of Deir el-Medina. It’s also the period of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, later deified, and Khaemwese, the ‘first Egyptologist’.  

The New Kingdom has left an extensive archaeological and historical record, richer in many respects than any other period of Egyptian history. This module addresses a range of different topics and themes in a broadly chronological framework and consistently emphasises primary sources. If you’re intrigued by Egyptian temples and gods, by what they believed about an afterlife, by famous pharaohs, by relief carving, painting and sculpture, diplomatic correspondence and private letters, or interconnections with Africa, the Near East and the Mediterranean, there is something here for you. Much of what you read about ancient Egypt is interpretation rather than ‘fact’, and this module will enable you to understand the evidence on which such discussion is based.

Imperial Rome 

This module will examine Roman society in the first to third centuries AD – the time when the empire was at its height, when huge building projects expressed the wealth and confidence and when one could travel from northern Britain to Iraq without leaving Roman control. There are three main strands to the module. One will examine the power structures of the empire: the state under Augustus; imperial rule – Caligula, Nero, and Hadrian; imperial women; imperialism and conquest; and imperial cult. The second will look at our writers – Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and Suetonius and will consider how far our ‘Rome’ is a product of their agendas. The third will look at wider society: ‘muted’ groups such as the poor, women and slaves; Rome’s relationship with its eastern territories including the Greeks and the Jews; religion under Rome; Rome, the non-Roman and resistance; death and disease.

Roman Britain and the Roman Army

Britain was one of the most heavily militarised of all the provinces of the Roman empire, with the garrison in the 1st and 2nd centuries comprising some 10% of the entire Roman army. Roman military archaeology in Britain has been a major focus of excavation and research over time, making Britain one of the most comprehensively studied military areas of the empire (and written about in English). Britain is thus an excellent case-study for looking at the Roman army, and equally military archaeology is one of the defining characteristics of the Roman period in Britain. 

The course will begin by focusing on the army of the first and second centuries A.D., the period of conquest and consolidation and the building of the great northern frontiers such as Hadrian’s Wall. It will look at the types of unit, the fortresses and forts in which they lived, the conditions of service of the soldiers, pay, equipment, how such a huge force was supplied and sustained. It will then move on to look at the creation of the built frontiers in the North, Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, using them as examples of wider trends in Roman military strategy and frontier development. The final part of the course will look at the third and fourth centuries, outlining the changes that took place in the army in Britain within the more general context of the ‘military crisis’ of the third century, and at the last of the great defensive systems in Britain, the forts of the Saxon Shore. 

The course will thus be an introduction both to many aspects of the Roman army for students interested in Roman history and archaeology more generally; and to a defining aspect of Britain in the Roman period for those more focused on the archaeology of Britain itself.

Sumerian Language and Culture

“Almost everything that’s been invented was already invented by the Sumerians.” “A sumerologist is someone who knows the mostest about the leastest.” Both of these truisms tell us something about the study of the ancient Sumerians, their language and their culture. More than twenty centuries before the first Olympiad or the founding of Rome the Sumerians created an advanced civilisation with elaborate architecture, city planning, technology, science and writing. The range and sophistication of what was written in Sumerian allows us to gain an insight into the minds of men and women five thousand years ago, or to put it differently, about half way back to the beginnings of the Neolithic. 

This option will investigate what it meant to be a Sumerian, and what the achievements of the Sumerians were, and how they were passed on to later civilisations, sometimes even surviving in their original Sumerian form, as for example in the case of our divisions of time and the circle. Perhaps most important of all are the texts that reveal to us the rich world of thought of the Sumerians, their mythology, legends, songs, courtship rites, stories and proverbs; all of these genres will be studied and debated in this module. But the module will also cover historical texts as well as the letters which the Sumerians wrote to each other – and sometimes also to their gods – and mundane matters from ancient admin to brewing. 

The seminar will be structured in such a way that AL will be introducing the language and culture during the first five weeks of the first term. Right at the beginning though each student will choose two topics that they wish to specialise in, for example a legal code, a myth, a social or historical phenomenon or an individual city and its architecture and life. After the first five weeks the module will take on a more discursive character with students’ informal presentation of their findings and discussion. 

Field Archaeology 

This module provides an in-depth introduction to archaeological fieldwork methodology, project design and organisation in real-world contexts, accompanied by a range of practical project planning and technical and analytical skills classes (such as map work, environmental sampling, stratigraphic analysis and surveying). The module also aims to develop critical approaches to evaluating archaeological methods and results, and independent research skills in data collection, evaluation and interpretation. A key component of the module is participation in the archaeological field course in the summer, involving further practical and methodological training and opportunities to act as project assistants with responsible team leader roles.

Republican Rome: from the Gracchi to Caesar 

This module will examine the last century of the Roman Republic and in particular the political, social and cultural shifts that took place. A central question will be how the Roman political system coped with the effects of having become the dominant power in the Mediterranean, and the internal, social strains which intensified as a result. Students will gain a thorough grounding in the primary sources for this period (including the writings of Cicero, Caesar and Plutarch, as well as other material, including epigraphical and archaeological evidence where appropriate), and also with the latest developments in the study of the Late Roman Republic.

Mediterranean and European Archaeology 

How and from where did Mycenae get its amber? What was the importance of salt from Austria? Why is there Classical Greek pottery and metalwork in central Europe? Why had Roman amphorae already overrun Gaul long before Caesar? The Mediterranean and Temperate Europe are often regarded as two separate worlds before they were forcibly united by Rome. But in fact there was always contact between the two regions and they impacted on each other in crucial ways. This module will look at the evidence (principally archaeological, some textual) for these interactions from the later Bronze Age through the Iron Age to the eve of the Roman expansion out of the Mediterranean. It will look at the evidence for how contact was driven by the needs for natural resources and for luxury items and how these were obtained and how control of access to these resources resulted in profound social changes visible in the evidence for activities such as trade, warfare, ritual and religion, feasting, coinage. The evidence will include fortifications, settlements, funerary practice and material culture, with an emphasis on the long-distance links.

Roman Women: Matrons and Monsters 

This module will examine the portrayal of Roman women, in contexts such as marriage, family, public life, religion, and in texts ranging from late republican to late imperial Rome. Sources will include Roman letters, historiography, epic, satire and elegy, as well as epigraphic material. Representation of historical characters such as Clodia Metelli, Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, or the empress Messalina will be studied alongside fictional creations such as Horace’s witch Canidia, or Propertius’ mistress, known as Cynthia.

Thinking Athenian  

Classical Athenians saw themselves as special. Descended from kings born from the earth itself, championed by the goddess Athena (who had to fight Poseidon for the honour!), inventors of democracy, victors at Marathon and Salamis, inventors of the dramatic arts, home to the best minds in the world, the list goes on and on. This module will look at Athenian attitudes to a variety of issues including: bravery, leisure, sexuality, politics, religion, warfare, money, and imperialism. It will also focus closely on the Athenian tendency towards the “othering” of non-elite male groups such as women, slaves, and foreigners, and even the poor. Ultimately we will be aiming to answer the question of whether the Athenians were peculiar in how they thought about the world.

Example Languages

Egyptian Language Modules

Introduction to Ancient Egyptian A and Introduction to Ancient Egyptian B 

These very challenging and demanding modules introduce students to the ‘classic’ phase of the ancient Egyptian language, known as ‘Middle Egyptian’. The first part of the year is devoted to study of the hieroglyphic script and to acquisition of a basic knowledge of the grammar and a working vocabulary. In the second part of the year, short literary and historical texts from the Middle Kingdom, such as the magical ‘Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor’ and commemorative stelae are read. The course requires regular submission of exercises for marking as well as class contributions from all.

Intermediate Egyptian: hieratic

This course is for students who have already acquired skills in Middle Egyptian language. It will introduce you to the world of handwritten manuscripts in ancient Egypt: texts written mainly on papyri and ostraca. Apart from a palaeographical investigation of hieratic texts, you will learn how to transcribe hieratic signs into hieroglyphs, thus preparing the text for transliteration and translation.  We will examine earlier texts dating to the Old and Middle Kingdoms and study hieratic texts of the New Kingdom.  You will learn to decipher historical and literary texts as well as letters. This will require an introduction to the Late Egyptian phase of the language.

Greek Language Modules

Introduction to Greek language 

The module is an introduction to the Greek language and its use for beginners. Students will be introduced to the basic elements of Greek syntax and grammar, and acquire some key vocabulary. Since the aim of the module is to enable students to use their linguistic skills in order to access primary materials, we will begin to make use of parallel texts and dictionaries to facilitate understanding of the primary texts, and to begin to understand the process of translation.

Beginners Greek 1

This module gives students an intensive introduction to the ancient Greek language, focusing on classical Attic prose. Classes introduce the basic concepts required to understand and learn an inflected language, cover the essential elements of accidence and syntax, and focus on a core vocabulary of common words. At the same time, they progressively introduce students to examples of real Greek usage drawn from literary texts and historical sources , and nurture an awareness of differences of register, tone and style. Class exercises provide practice in both passive and active use of the students’ developing knowledge of Greek.

Beginners Greek 2

This module assumes a sound knowledge of the basic principles of Greek grammar and the more common inflectional forms, along with a good grasp of basic vocabulary. Students will build on this foundation to gain a knowledge of all common noun and verb forms, along with a wider vocabulary.

Greek Prose Texts

This module is for students who have successfully completed Beginners’ Greek 2. In this module students improve their linguistic ability by reading a range of Greek prose texts, practising their commentary and translation skills. Students will analyse different literary translations of the same Greek text with view to improving their own comprehension and translation skills. Students also practise and improve their unseen translation skills.

Greek Verse Texts

This module is for those who have successfully completed Greek Texts Level I. In this module students read, translate and interpret a range of Greek verse texts, and work on their literary, cultural and stylistic significance and contexts. Texts will vary year by year. 

Latin Language modules

Introduction to Latin Language 

The module is an introduction to the Latin language and its use for beginners. Students will be introduced to the basic elements of Latin syntax and grammar, and acquire some key vocabulary. Since the aim of the module is to enable students to use their linguistic skills in order to access primary materials, we will begin to make use of parallel texts and dictionaries to facilitate understanding of the primary texts, and to begin to understand the process of translation.

Beginners’ Latin 1 

This module gives students an intensive introduction to the Latin language. Classes introduce the basic concepts required to understand and learn an inflected language, cover the essential elements of accidence and syntax, and focus on a core vocabulary of common words. At the same time, they progressively introduce students to examples of real Latin usage drawn from literary texts and historical sources, and nurture an awareness of differences of register, tone and style. Class exercises provide practice in both passive and active use of the students’ developing knowledge of Latin.

Beginners Latin 2 

This module assumes a sound knowledge of the basic principles of Latin grammar and the more common inflectional forms, along with a good grasp of basic vocabulary. Students will build on this foundation to gain a knowledge of all common noun and verb forms, along with a wider vocabulary.

Latin Prose Texts

This module is for students who have successfully completed Beginners’ Latin 2. In this module students improve their linguistic ability by reading a range of Latin prose texts, practising their commentary and translation skills. Students will analyse different literary translations of the same Greek text with view to improving their own comprehension and translation skills. 

Latin Verse Texts

This module is for those who have successfully completed Latin Texts Level I. In this module students read, translate and interpret a range of Latin verse texts, and work on their literary, cultural and stylistic significance and contexts. Texts will vary year by year. 

Professional Skills Module

  • 20 credits 

This is a work placement module involving a minimum of 20 days in a work environment in the type of organisation or business sector to which history students might apply after graduation. It would provide an opportunity for a student to develop transferable skills such as team work, problem solving, and presentational skills and give them an opportunity to develop skills of self-reflection. It will also have 5 hours of contact time in introduction, mid-year review and end of year sessions.